What's new in Office 365? (It's not all emails and SharePoint)

If you think you have a good handle on what’s available in the Cloud, think again. Not that I doubt your knowledge for one minute, but what I am sure of is the rapid pace of change in Cloud services, especially from Microsoft. The Cloud that you investigated 12 months or 6 months ago might now have service offerings that you’re not aware of. Nothing demonstrates this increased pace of technology change as well as Office 365 does. So let’s look at some of the new Office 365 features that have been introduced in the last 12 months. Because it’s a whole lot more than just hosted Exchange and SharePoint.

Delve – Search on steroids. Traditionally if you wanted to find some information, you’d go to the place where that kind of data was kept and use that product’s search function (eg within Outlook or File Explorer). Delve sits instead an Office 365 tenant and analyses all of the data you have access to in one search pane. Information is beautifully presented, whether it was in your mail file, a shared mailbox you have access to or a SharePoint document library. This breaks information out of silos and is especially handy for highlighting information provided by colleagues and stored in places you may not have thought to look (as long as you have access).

Sway – A new way to tell your story. Also available as a standalone product, Sway is now integrated into Office 365, appearing in the app picker. Labelled a ‘digital storytelling app’, some have wondered if this will bring an end to death by PowerPoint. Sadly, it lacks the ‘clicker’ integration for delivering a live presentation. What does shine is the automated information layouts that bring beautiful ‘readability’ without you needing to be a website developer.

Power BI – Display & query your data like never before. OK so this one’s a little older than 12 months and is also available as a standalone product. The Office 365 power comes from using this powerful tool to display stunning representations of your data real-time inside your SharePoint Online portal. Natural language query lets you filter and redisplay that data. You really need to see it to believe it, but image your sales team seeing live sales data plotted in 3D columns on a map of the country and being able to drill down to find the best selling city for widget X versus widget Y … all without touching a spreadsheet or ERP system.

Office 365 Groups – Groups, but not as you know them. This is truly an Office 365 innovation, not available anywhere else. They’re not security groups and they aren’t mailing groups. Office 365 Groups bring a collection of team resources to one place for you to access (emails, shared calendar, shared documents etc.) The most brilliant part is that a new person to the ‘team’ (Group) gets access to all of the historical data including previous emails sent amongst the group. This works well for team members that don’t all work in the same office, but is only available to users within your Office 365 tenant.

Office 365 Planner – Team task management. This is the newest baby, not available in even First Release tenants until next quarter. Office 365 Planner is what you get if Project and Pinterest had a baby. It’s not designed for complicated projects, but it provides a great team space for task creation, allocation and updates.

Mobile Device Management – BYOD fans are going to love this. While Mobile Device Management has been an Enterprise offering in the past, now an Office 365 subscriber can take advantage of some of these capabilities. Under the hood it will look strangely like Windows Intune (because it is). Bringing it to Office 365 makes it affordable for more organisations, but the killer feature is the ability to selectively wipe enrolled devices.  So when staff have an Office 365 license on their phone, not only can you enforce passcodes if you wish but you can delete all synced files and emails if their phone is lost .. without wiping out the family photos in their camera roll.

Additional administration and protection features. Office 365 now lets administrators configure self service password reset for users who have a secondary validation method (eg a mobile number or alternative email address). Custom branding is also available, to make people feel like they are logging onto one of the company’s systems. And data loss prevention has now extended beyond just email and is available in SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business, suggesting or blocking information from being shared outside of your organization.

Any surprises in that list? Did it change your perception of Office 365? Can you see a use for any of the new features within your own organization?

One thing’s for sure, this is just a taste of how agile Microsoft is being with this product suite. We’re going to see many more new announcements over the next 12 months and the Office Blog is one of the best places to keep informed.